Jul 28

The Pervasive Post and Pray Pathology

ParadigmShiftThe corruption of our thinking began with learning things that we are unwilling to unlearn. Beginning with inventing the wheel and discovering fire, we eventually came to worship better technological advances. Often we found that automation alone was not the answer, but we failed to understand why.

Nobody who is a recruiter today would consider spending time by only placing ads in a newspaper and then watching the daily mail – or a fax machine – for paper copies of resumes. The savvy job seeker of yesteryear subscribed to multiple print publications, spread out those want ads on the kitchen table, circled the best ones with a yellow highlighter, stuffed envelopes with preprinted resumes along with a stock cover letter, and then kissed it goodbye by licking and sticking stamps. Archaic? Yes, but it did work. Jobs were filled and people were hired. Then along came that infamous automation and we became our own worst enemy.

We do have it much better today. Recruiters scoff at old school practices and pride themselves on being smarter than their predecessors because they have now learned to use technology to ply their trade. Young job seekers brag about growing up with computers and a whole generation of know-it-all, know nothings pollute the job search conversation. What’s wrong with this picture? We have changed the medium but not the underlying logic. We evolved past job board infatuation and on to posting jobs on social media, but for the most part we are still passively advertising and not engaging. As it became increasingly easy to apply for a job by clicking a hyperlink we have trained the new technorati generation to click without reading and then hoping to hit the job lottery. Back away for a minute. Looking down on this picture from space, nothing changed except for the speed and volume of posting and praying. We are unthinkingly doing the same thing we have always done; only now we can now make mistakes faster and more often.

If there is such a thing as evolution of thought, the new paradigm that discards everything we know and builds something unique is long overdue. Blow it all up and start over! There have been many missed opportunities. LinkedIn could have been the place where hirers and hirees could engage in a dialog for a better solution. Instead most recruiters saw it as just another job board and LinkedIn has complied by giving them just what they wanted… not what they needed. Ask a job seeker where they look for jobs and most often it sounds like using the internet to replace that kitchen table/highlighter drill. Nothing has changed. Nobody sees the similarities of today’s methodology to the old ways, but everybody complains about how broken the process has become. It was always broken!

There are signs that people are searching for that better way of doing it. Several companies are rolling out job-to-candidate matching services following the online dating model. So far most of them fall short because it is a software programmer’s concept using the less expensive word matching model rather than any hint of the more expensive true artificial intelligence. Since money rules all, we trade efficiency and time for glitzy dumb systems that repeat the past. They have automated the buzz word bingo and eliminated the human element. It is sold to companies wanting to save a buck and job seekers wanting magic. The biggest flaw is the same as the dating models; it doesn’t work unless people are talking to each other. Ironically, the same people who are complaining that computers are narrowing their chances of a job through an applicant tracking system are hoping that a computer will find that perfect match painlessly and without any effort on their part.

The Zappos story is another unique attempt at changing the paradigm. There are no job postings… period! Well how about that! One way to eliminate the recruiting black hole is to eliminate the one-way communications that it elicits. By promoting conversations between Zappos Ambassadors and Zappos Insiders a true dialog can be established with the end result of everybody being happy. How do job seekers get to be an Insider? By applying online. Oops! This is a major step toward fixing that broken system and it will be interesting to watch this culture evolve and mature. It will no doubt be improved with experience and is bound to be copied by many… rightly or wrongly.

The real answer to the problem is out there somewhere and one thing is clear: The best solution will always be one that does not disrespect the value of a person on either side of the interview table. It will not be solved by technology replacing humans, but by humans using technological tools to reach their goals more efficiently. The best solution will NOT be to repeat what we do today in a different format. We need to learn to unlearn things that we think we know.

 

Image Copyright:  Brad Calkins / 123RF Stock Photo

Jun 22

We Have To Talk… Before It’s Too Late!

Last year a BBC article told the story of Julia Rogers of Newton Abbot, Devon. After over-the-counter remedies for backache didn’t help alleviate her pain, she went to her doctor complaining that it seemed to be spreading into her abdomen. She was sent for blood tests and later for an ultrasound which showed “excessive bowel gas.” There were seventeen subsequent visits to doctors and on two visits to the emergency room she was sent home with painkillers. Nobody seemed to take her seriously, but she was referred to a gastroenterologist for another opinion. She decided not to wait several weeks for the appointment with another “expert” and scheduled a scan at a private hospital at her own expense. On June 11 she was told that she had inoperable advanced pancreatic cancer.

How often do we hear stories about solutions to serious problems that start with just treating the symptoms instead of searching for the root cause? We can joke about using a tourniquet around the neck to control nosebleed, but this also indicates another problem: Sometimes an improper cure can be worse than the problem it is intended to solve. It almost seems to be in the nature of being human to either overreact to a situation or ignore it and not react at all. Both extremes are deadly.

Words cannot adequately express feelings about the tragic events in Charleston, South Carolina last week, but we must talk about it. Failing to address serious issues in our lives, our work places, and our thoughts does nothing to work toward solving the root problems we face, so we must share our ideas and confront our fears rationally. We also need to look at the subconscious motivations that somehow surface when we talk without thinking about the totality of the event. Spreading half truths and offering pet biases as solutions is really just putting a band-aid on an open artery.

Not a day had gone by after the nine innocent people were killed during a Bible study at a church in Charleston when the “ultimate” solutions poured out of half-thinking pundits. For some, the Confederate Flag was to blame. If only that flag were banned from public places then events like this would not happen. The anti-gun lobby decreed that if guns were controlled then this would not have happened. Racists accused other types of racists for the deaths. One map posted by a liberal news outlet showed all the southern states highlighted in red as if they were the problem. While all of these and other theories should be included in the conversation, we should never think that any one of these pet grievances is a total solution to the root problem. Eliminating the symptoms of evil will not eradicate the evil.

In an article in Esquire Charleston Shooting: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable, Charles P. Pierce points us in the direction of a solution by reminding us not to hide from such events. They must be part of the common dialog and we must think deeply about them and talk about them. Of course, no one is immune from injecting a bit of personal vitriol to a situation as he did by referring to South Carolina as “the home office of American sedition.” Really? How ironic that in an earlier interview about his book Idiot America – How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free he stated “… the zealot is very often the hardest person to argue with, because he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, but he knows what he believes.” So by revealing his own moment of zealotry he masks one of the reasons why a band-aid approach won’t work.

If you believe that flags, guns, race, regional affiliation or something else impact the situation don’t stop talking about your beliefs. It is only by talking and debating issues that we can drill down to the root cause of our problems. If you blindly hold to the fact that your way is the only way, you may be part of the problem. There is a cancer in our world that needs to be diagnosed and excised. Violent actions by our fellow humans are the result of something evil. Charleston joins the long list of global atrocities that include Paris, France; Tyrifjorden, Norway; Kauhajoki, Finland; Erfurt, Germany; Veghel, Netherlands. Think bigger than yourself. Imagine a world without evil and make it happen.  

Image credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters via WSJ

May 11

The Rules for Being Funny… or Serious

CryingAndSmilingMasksHere it is in a nutshell: There are no rules. I’m sorry if you expected more than that, but anyone who professes to know a one-size-fits-all definition for each band of the humor spectrum is lying or misguided at best. It is usually a matter of situation and timing for something to be found funny. In company reorganizations we can refer to misguided efforts as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” but there was a time that nothing about the Titanic was remotely funny. The late comedian Steve Allen was quoted as saying, “I guess you can make a mathematical formula out of it. Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

Somewhere between being a humorless stick-in-the-mud and a circus clown is that sliding scale of appropriateness. When we hire people into an organization and talk about the best cultural fit, it is never 100% Brooks Brothers or 100% Ringling Brothers. Our youth oriented culture emphasizes the “having fun” part of our work life, but at some point most people grow beyond that. Could there be a cause and effect relationship between positioning a company as “cool” and the reason that new grads soon become disillusioned and look for other jobs? Last week in the news it was reported that roughly 14% of Zappos hires have decided that their jobs were not fun anymore and opted for the buyout bonus. Is Holacracy really just a way to say Hello to Crazy in Spanish? Now that’s funny!

At the risk of being a liar or misguided (by my own definition) maybe there can be a few common sense guidelines for counterbalancing gravity with levity.

  • Rationality – Awareness of self is the key to honing the impression we make on others. It is impossible to always hear ourselves as other hear us, but we can “feel” our own presence, deliberately find out who we are, and maintain our sanity. According to Kurt Vonnegut, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning to do afterward.”
  • Healing – Patching broken feelings and bodies always finds humor as a good medicine. Erma Bombeck wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” The trick is listening to the environment and training our intuition to find that thin line. It is only by trial, error, and sometimes apologies that we fine tune our sense of line drawing.
  • Speaking – Mark Twain was a humorist and a philosopher as well as an author. According to Twain, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Whether it is a company training exercise, a speech to stockholders, a graduation speech, or a sermon in church, the attention grabbing introduction is often made humorous to offset the flow of more serious information to follow.
  • Surviving – Coping with the stresses of daily life is easier when we use humor to polish the rough edges off of a bad situation. Ironically, Bill Cosby once said, “Through humor you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” I would hope that he is using his genius for comedy for his own life troubles.

This really should be an ongoing thought process rather than a one shot look at how humorous or how serious we need to be in any given situation. Looking to science, psychotherapist and author Maud Purcell advised to “humor up” your work environment by bringing kids toys to work and keeping them within reach. “That irate customer on the phone will have no idea that you are keeping your cool by playing with a Slinky.” Technology has erased traditional boundaries of our workplace and we now interact with a broader universe through social media. Delight your family, friends, coworkers and the public at large by sprinkling humorous things in your timeline on Facebook and Twitter. My bet is that it will put you in a better place personally, socially, and professionally than dry data or contentious crap.

Image Copyright: stocksnapper / 123RF Stock Photo

Mar 30

The Missing Dash

It has been said that a person’s tombstone marks three things: the beginning of life, the end of life, and a dash to represent everything in between. As we go through life cramming as much as we can into our dash, other people have dashes that cross over into ours as well. Regardless of the length of our dash, we can always assign a value to each data point in it. After all, isn’t a dash just a line composed of an infinite number of individual points?

March 30, 2005 marked the day of the beginning of one of the most significant lives that has ever crossed my own dash. The resting place for Rachael’s marker doesn’t have a visible dash because she left this world on the same day she arrived. The firstborn of my daughter and son-in-law was born with a condition known as Trisomy-18 with a life expectancy that could be only a few years or a few minutes. Heartbroken, our family dealt with this loss and tried to find some understanding of this tragedy. We hold life to be precious and need to find some meaning in the things that seem to happen without reason.

As we had waited for this birth everyone knew that the prognosis was not good, but hope was alive and some who had forgotten how to pray remembered during that time. It was not to be. The tiny heart that had beat so strongly for nine months and one week stopped that day. Does that mean that her life really has a missing dash? Rachael was a very special soul even though she never grew to talk, run, play, or laugh. She has touched more lives than some people who muddle through their much longer dashes. She inspires everyone to reflect on the true meaning of life and to dedicate themselves to some positive endeavor in her memory.

It may be difficult for others to understand, but that day was a turning point for me. Oh, I never really thought it was all about me and I could not even imagine the grief of a mother and father losing a child. But, as Rachael entered my own dash she changed my life forever. Her life had meaning. For months I had prayed that she be allowed to live and that my life be taken instead. I’m still here, so maybe my life has meaning too. Maybe we all should be more aware of the impact of our dash on others as we go about living and working.

Go forth and be dashful today!

 

Rachael Nicole Martin

Dec 22

Who Needs Social Media?

It's only a tool if you use it.

It’s only a tool if you use it.

Before you answer that question too quickly with your typical knee-jerk reaction, think about how you formed that opinion. Is it based on facts or are you blindly following suggestions planted by faux experts of the online realm. Do we accept it as a true need because of our incessant need to feed our personal addiction or deny its importance because of some subconscious aversion to technological change? Like most tools its use is situational. Anyone who has ever stripped the head off of an overtorqued screw needs the “Speedout Damaged Screw Extractor” set in their toolbox. If you don’t screw up, then its need is not quite so apparent. Seeing social media as just one tool to get things done can give us perspective if we are not blinded by the shimmer of glowing technology.

The true answer to this question is “Nobody!” It is hard to argue that it is as significant as oxygen to our survival, but it really depends on how broad you consider the definition of the word “need?” As a verb, to need something means that it is essential or at the very least extremely important. As a noun it implies something that is necessary or deserving of immediate action. The importance of needing or having needs seems to feed some sort of human drive to neatly arrange everything into some stair-step model that makes it easy to visualize complex ideas. In our minds we organize needs into distinct buckets ranging from the least to the most important. Where would you put social media in Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs? Ah, there is the real basis of the question. How do you differentiate a want from a need?

Most social media tools are psychologically addictive. When you honestly believe this as a possibility and look into the research you will see conflicting scientific viewpoints, but also find other significant evidence that it can be harmful. Bringing the relativity of a situation into clearer focus gives a clue into why that happens. People who are uncomfortable directly approaching other people face-to-face or cold-calling to expand networking connections will find comfort in an online hideout where an immediate response can be delayed forever. The same lure of passive job board applications gives a feeling of doing something when actually nothing is happening. When more socially adept people do the same thing it is only the beginning of personal connections that will grow other connections. In one instance it is planting seeds that will never grow and on another it is cultivating a harvest that will bring rich rewards.

Recruiters and their managers often engage in arguments about using social and other electronic media to source, recruit, and hire talent. When you take a Google-Earthish viewpoint and look at these discussions from a broader perspective, it becomes evident that nobody is communicating. Taking a microscopic view of any situation and using occasional positive results as proof of concept is totally illogical. Sowing a millions seeds and hiring X number of people is no more significant than cultivating fewer seeds and hiring X number of people. Every situation is different and there is no school solution as to the correct methodology. It is a matter of choice and it doesn’t mean that if it works it is “the” way or any guarantee that it will work for someone else.

When we give job seekers advice that they need to use social media tools, are we helping or hurting their situation? Once again, it depends. Many people who are unemployed tend to experience forms of psychological and social losses which include diminished social contacts. Social media helps them maintain relationships, but studies1 of unemployed people show mixed results. Although they can use social media to cultivate their social support networks the opportunity to establish new contacts is often underutilized. The social network differentiation between the unemployed and employed is the same online in social media. This does not mean that it is a useless exercise for job seekers. New studies2 show changes to the data from 1998-2001 surveys and show that unemployed persons who look for work online are re-employed about 25% faster than comparable workers who do not search online. Internet job search including social media appears to be most effective in reducing unemployment durations when used to contact friends and relatives, to send out resumes or fill out applications and also to look at advertisements.

What are your expectations and will your social media plan realistically get you to your goals. Most people will probably find that it must be leveraged with other tools for the best impact. Neither side of these arguments can be colored as absolutely right or wrong. The areas between those opinions are also not necessarily gray. There is a rainbow of situational solutions. Observers of the ongoing dialog will also have to endure pretentious elitism toward use social media and technology as the only possible solution.

Image credit: Courtesy Leute Management Services, LLC original photo

1 A social net? Internet and social media use during unemployment, Work, Employment & Society August 201428: 551-570, first published on June 3, 2014

2 Is Internet Job Search Still Ineffective?, Kuhn, P. and Mansour, H. (2014), The Economic Journal, 124: 1213–1233.

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